By Mark Kobzik
The Shelburne Dog Park’s future is officially uncertain now that state and town officials have agreed that it must be moved from its current wetland location on Harbor Road.
After much review with state environmental officials, Dog Park Committee Chair Kay Boyce told the selectboard Tuesday night that it is clear the park does not comply with rules covering wetlands.
“We need to move,” Boyce told the board.
In February, Vermont state officials found the park to be in violation of Vermont Wetland Rules. Six months later, state and town officials along with the Dog Park Committee have decided to work to determine where to create a new park in town.
When the 3-acre park was created in 2011, town and state officials knew the land rested on a Class II wetland, which is subject to a state Agency of Natural Resources permitting process.
Vermont Wetland Program Manager Laura Lapierre said the state knew about the Shelburne Dog Park’s location on a wetland but its approval went through anyway because the original plans only called for limited changes to the site such as fencing, invasive plant removal, and lawn maintenance.
“Other activities, such as adding fill or digging ditches would require a permit,” Lapierre explained. “The problem was that it became more than just fencing and plant control.”
After the park’s opening in 2012, volunteers undertook a series of projects including adding a gravel path, installing a waterline for a washing station, removing trees and shrubs, and building a storage shed. Once those changes were made, the state found the park to be in violation of wetland rules.
The issue came to the state’s attention, Lapierre said, when “we received a question about landscaping from the dog park chair.” She explained that last December, the VELCO station adjacent to the park submitted a compliance report to the Wetland Program, in which VELCO noted that “one of their vegetation plots within the wetland had been filled by sur-pack.”
Both Town Manager Joe Colangelo and Lapierre confirmed that both sides agree the park needs to be moved and the site returned to a more natural state. Lapierre noted that parking lot fill will need to be removed from the current site, while the existing fencing and shed can be set up at a new park. The current park then can be restored “back to a forested shrubby wetland,” she said.
Town officials said it could take several years for a new park to be established. Colangelo told the selectboard Tuesday night that town planner Dean Pierce and he have a draft schedule and criteria list to move ahead with planning for a new park. Colangelo said he would share those details with the selectboard in two weeks.
The current park was created on land donated to the town. Selectboard Chair Gary von Stange noted that the budget for next year may need to include some funding for a new park.
Replacing the park was a popular idea at Tuesday’s selectboard meeting. Several people spoke in favor of finding a new suitable spot. Longtime Shelburne veterinarian Steven Metz said having a spot for dogs to play off-leash is important. “We must offer a legal alternative for dog owners in this town,” he said, noting that the town’s leash law limits those opportunities.
The conundrum with the dog park evidently has reached the highest levels of state government, too. State Rep. Jessica Brumsted, D-Shelburne, spoke at Tuesday’s selectboard meeting, saying that she had been in touch with the governor’s office on the issue.
She said she advocated for the state to work with the town to keep the park open with the assurance that local officials next work to find a new site for a park. She said she got a positive response from Gov. Phil Scott’s office.
“DEC has been great,” she said. “It has not been super heavy-handed on this.”
Shelburne News reporters Lisa Scagliotti and Lauren Milideo contributed to this report.